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Trans-Antarctica Expedition

Erickson Outdoors Plays Key Role in Trans-Antarctica Expedition

In 1989, Erickson Outdoors was selected to design the clothing for Will Steger’s 1990 International Trans-Antarctica Expedition, the first-ever non-motorized crossing of this forbidding continent. An international team of six men and 36 huskies traveled by ski and sled nearly 4,000 miles to bring attention to Antarctica’s threatened ecological future. On the ice continuously for 220 days, they endured windchills of –150 degrees and winds raging beyond 100 miles per hour. On terrain averaging 8,000 ft above sea level, they covered nearly 20 miles per day. Millions tuned in to ABC Sports TV to witness their successful finish on March 3, 1990. We were thrilled to play a part in this amazing story.

What a design challenge! The clothing had to help the explorers sustain a high level of physical efficiency under extreme and changeable conditions—and the success of the expedition would depend upon it. For much of the journey, the explorers would be on their own, without a lifeline. They had placed a huge amount of trust in Erickson Outdoors.

  • To keep their energy up, the men burned through 4,500 to 5,000 calories per day, consuming whole sticks of butter as if they were candy bars. With this level of heat output, the challenge, paradoxically, was not to keep the men warm but rather to keep them dry. Sweat-soaked clothing exposed to the bitter cold could freeze instantly and become a deadly liability. Our solution was a system of quickly-interchangeable layers allowing adjustment of insulation level depending upon heat output and weather conditions. The ensemble was made of technical fibers and finishes from W.L. Gore, DuPont and The North Face, which were non-absorbent, highly breathable, yet extremely wind-resistant.
  • Manipulation of zippers, cord locks and other fasteners is nearly impossible for cold-numbed fingers. We sewed oversized HDPE stiffeners into Velcro fasteners, thus allowing the explorers easy access to pockets and vent zippers with a mittened hand.
  • For the first 2,000 miles of the journey the explorers would face constant headwinds and wind-driven ice crystals coming off the high polar cap at the center of the continent, seriously impairing both visibility and comfort. Using common 12-gauge copper wire, we devised a malleable hood opening that could be instantly adjusted from full open to narrow slit.
  • The look of the clothing had to address the explorer’s need for instant recognition of each other in low-visibility situations, as well as satisfy TV’s demand for vivid color. Using a narrow palette of only three colors, we created a separate color “identity” for each explorer while projecting a unified, cohesive image for the whole team.
  • In the extreme cold of Antarctica, razor-sharp ice crystals underfoot can cut a husky’s paw to ribbons. We devised a high-tech bootie that protected these precious extremities without hampering the animal’s ability to run.

We are proud of our role in this history-making adventure. Although not all of our clothing manufacturing projects involve life and death, we bring the same dedication to function-driven design, quality workmanship and trustworthy service to each.

One of the many parkas we designed to withstand windchills of -150 degrees Our clothing had to protect the explorers
Erickson Outdoors - Technical Apparel Design and Manufacturing